Elisa Molina of COVEDOZA on creating space for underrepresented women
Describe your business in a few words:
I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur, a first-time mother, and Founder and CEO of COVEDOZA – an Afro-Latina owned brand created for the passionate feminist with a mission to uplift the voices and artwork of Black, Indigenous and Women of Color (BIWOC) artists via print collaborations. COVEDOZA creates feminist apparel and accessories for women seeking to speak up about inequality, representation and body positivity.
As the daughter of an immigrant mother who raised 5 children in a single-parent household, I used these experiences to fuel my desire to build generational wealth and build a brand influenced by my feminist ideals.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I started COVEDOZA for two reasons: 1) to break generational poverty, and 2) to address the issue of women’s underrepresentation and pay inequality in the arts by educating the public about their work and their stories, increasing their exposure via our online platforms while addressing the customers’ need for inspirational products when life happens.
While growing up in a single-parent household in the Dominican Republic and the Bronx, NY, I saw my mother raise 5 children on her own and work 12-hour shifts (6am-6pm) in an array of Georgia factories to make ends meet and feed us. I come from a household with very limited resources which helped me develop grit and perseverance over time. There were times I didn’t have food while in college and I slept on the floor of the Ronald E. McNair Program’s office during the summer months. I wanted to break generational poverty by creating additional streams of income and inspire my siblings to finish their education and fight for what they believed in. I come from an entrepreneurial and artistic family and COVEDOZA allows me to merge the two.
COVEDOZA was originally born in 2017 as a side hustle and I am proud to scream to the world it is now a registered entity with an immense potential to help new women artists and creatives grow and scale their craft while empowering the women that support them. As an economic development Peace Corps volunteer back in 2010, I saw first-hand the struggles the artisans from my community faced due to lack of access to capital, language barriers, and lack of business training opportunities. I also saw how the competition that existed amongst the artisans kept them and their families apart for many years. They all started to steal customers from each other, yet I was able to show them how collaboration instead of competition would get them further via community projects. This is where my idea to create a platform for artist collaborations was born.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, “nearly half (45.8%) of visual artists in the United States are women; on average, they earn 74¢ for every dollar made by male artists.” For centuries, women have been involved in making art, whether as creators and innovators of new forms of artistic expression, patrons, collectors, sources of inspiration, or significant contributors as art historians and critics. Today, all women, especially women of color, remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, auction houses, and media. Due to gender biases, they face challenges from finding difficulty in training to selling their work and gaining recognition.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When the idea of COVEDOZA started in 2017, I failed twice before I was able to get it right the third time. My original idea required capital I could not access and imports/export knowledge I did not have. As an economic development Peace Corps volunteer in rural Costa Rica back in 2010, I saw first-hand the struggles the artisans from my community faced due to lack of access to capital, language barriers, and lack of business training opportunities. I also saw how the competition that existed amongst the artisans kept them and their families apart for many years. They all started to steal customers from each other, yet I was able to show them how collaboration instead of competition would get them further via community projects. This is where my idea to create a platform for artist collaborations was born. I wanted to continue to support the artisans I worked with by importing their pottery and selling it in the U.S. but as I researched import/export law and realized how expensive importing pottery was, I gave up on the idea. Then, I gave birth to my daughter Leslie Valentina in April 2018 and took a break from my side hustle.
In the Fall of 2018, I came across a program called ¡Avanzando Juntas! hosted by the Latin American Association in Atlanta that focused on helping Mujeres Latinas create economic opportunities to break from poverty and launch their own business as an additional stream of income. While my husband babysat my newborn, I sat in business class every Wednesday evening for 6 weeks and did homework to create a business plan and gain clarity of my business idea and model. Thanks to this program, I was learned that I needed to diversity my product offerings for the business to be sustainable and scalable. However, after I launched January 2019 as EPLUS and started selling handmade phone cases in collaboration with the only women illustrator that said yes to my crazy idea, there was no traction; so I hit another wall. It wasn’t until March 2019 when I rebranded as COVEDOZA and did a complete relaunch of the brand with a new powerful collection called “Unapologetic by EMEJOTA.” Thanks to that third try, we are here today empowering women through art and changing the narrative for women artists of color.
My marketing strategy was focused on word of mouth via my sorority sisters and social media like Instagram. It worked very well but there’s always room for growth.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
My proudest accomplishment has been raising over $40,000 in grants to date to support the growth of my small business. The road was not easy and of course I received a lot of rejection which helped me grow so much during my grant application journey.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I do not believe in work-life balance but I strongly believe in work-life integration. You see, when we talk about balance, we are saying that there’s an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. But as women, when we are juggling home, business, life, community and so much more, it is not possible for all of these things to get our equal attention. There’s no way. However, I do believe that when you integrate all of these things into your life knowing that sometimes one thing may get more attention than the other, you won’t have unmet expectations. It is okay for you to be more career focused than home focused or home focused than business focused while juggling all of these things.
What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
There are so many things to celebrate but the biggest thing is that I was selected as one of the winners for the 2021 Jefes del Futuro Cricket Grant Contest where winners will receive a $5,000 grant and one-hour mentorship from a Cricket Wireless corporate employee who will provide insights, expertise and guidance to help them on their road to success.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
I have so many great things I want to do next for my business. Some of these things include launching an internship program and my very first COVEDOZA podcast!
What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
What has me so pumped up about being Entreprenista League member is the amazing community of sisterhood that exists within this community. I truly feel like I am living the motto of community over competition for real for real. I love how even though some of us do not know each other, we jump right in to help each other any time someone in the League needs support, advice or a recommendation. It’s so beautiful to see so many of us from different walks of life support each other so deeply. I also feel that Entreprenista has built an incredible team of women that truly care about our growth as women business owners and leaders.